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The Ghost of Ransom Creek

By Jestress

Mystery / Romance

Questions and Answers

Francine was keeping things in order downstairs. Mrs. Nicholson had persuaded her to let her make coffee for everyone. Francine had allowed her to do so under the condition that a guard watch her do it. By the time that Billy, Lee, and Amanda arrived downstairs, everyone was drinking coffee, including Francine. Somehow, she managed to look authoritative even in a light pink robe and nightgown.

Worth, still in his robe and pajamas, was trying to talk to her as they drank their coffee. “It’s crazy,” he was saying. “One strange Halloween night, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Francine said. She wasn’t paying much attention because she was trying to keep an eye on the others in the room.

“Did anything else strange happen last night?” Worth asked. “Besides the attack on Romano, I mean?”

“I can’t comment on that right now,” Francine said. “The situation is still under investigation. Oh, Billy!” Worth glanced in their direction and walked away from Francine.

Georgia turned to see them come in and jumped up from her place on the sofa. In her haste to talk to them, she tripped, spilling coffee on Victoria and Annette, who were sitting on the sofa with her. Victoria cried out when the hot coffee hit her and also jumped up, bumping straight into Georgia, knocking her down. Georgia’s coffee cup shattered as it hit the floor, and she fell hard on her left arm.

Amanda immediately rushed forward to help the two women. Annette also got up, but instead of offering help, she just took off her purple robe, which was now damp with coffee. Underneath it, she was wearing a matching purple nightgown with a pink bow at the neckline, and she glared at everyone to make it clear that they’d better not comment on it.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Victoria said to Georgia. “I’m so clumsy!” Those were the most words Lee had heard her say all at once.

She also removed her coffee-stained robe. Fortunately, she wore modest pajamas underneath it, cozy flannel with a black, green, red plaid pattern, that Lee didn’t think was at all becoming. He wouldn’t call himself an expert on women’s fashions, but he knew what he liked, and he didn’t like the look of that.

“It was my fault,” Georgia said as Amanda helped her to her feet. “I’ve just been so worried. Is Michael alright? They said he’d been attacked but is he-?”

“He’s going to be fine,” Amanda said soothingly. “He’s just resting upstairs.”

“Oh, thank God!” Georgia closed her eyes in relief.

“This is going to sound a little strange,” Amanda said, “but would you mind showing me your arms?”

“My arms?”

“Just roll up your sleeves.”

Georgia did so. There was a red mark near her left elbow, where she’d fallen on her arm, but that was all. It was probably going to turn black and blue, but the tender spot was still fresh.

“May I see yours?” Amanda asked Victoria.

Victoria gave her a puzzled look but also rolled up her sleeves. Her right arm was red, but then she’d just had hot coffee splashed on it. Her sleeve was warm and damp. Her other arm was fine.

“Annette?” Amanda asked.

“What is this for?” she asked, but she rolled up her sleeves anyway.

Her arms were perfectly fine.

“We just had to check something,” Amanda said.

Billy explained the situation to Francine and had her display her arms to prove that they were unmarked. Then, he had Mrs. Ransom and Mrs. Nicholson do the same. The only two people with marks on their arms were Victoria and Georgia, and they both could have gotten them right then, in front of everyone.

“It’s funny how that accident just happened right now,” Francine whispered. “You think that one of them might have caused it on purpose, just to cover up some existing marks?”

“It’s possible,” Billy said. “They were sitting right next to each other. Georgia could have spilled her coffee on purpose to provoke the accident, or Victoria could have stuck out her foot and tripped her. It happened pretty fast, and I wasn’t looking right at them.”

“I wasn’t either,” Lee said, “but one of them could have done it on purpose.”

“Victoria’s marks are the most suspicious,” Amanda said.

“I doubt it was Victoria,” Francine said. “She’s a mouse! She hardly ever even talks.”

“I think it was her,” Amanda said. “It’s always the quiet ones, the ones you least suspect.”

“But you already suspect her,” Francine pointed out.

Billy said, “I don’t think we’re getting anywhere with this. In fact, I think it’s time to end this situation and take all of these people back to Washington for questioning.”

“End the meeting?” Lee asked. “This isn’t going to do wonders for our relationship with MI6, and they’re going to resent it if we try to interrogate them.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Billy said. “There’s an attempted murderer among our group, and we’re not giving that person a chance to strike again. Georgia and Victoria are the prime suspects right now. We’re going to keep an especially close watch on them. From now on, nobody goes anywhere without a security escort, and those two will have two guards stationed with them at all times. I’m going to call the Agency and get a couple of vans up here to transport these people back to headquarters.”

“Billy, do you mind if I talk to some of them now?” Lee said. “There are some things I’d like to clear up before we leave here.”

“You may as well,” Billy said. “It’ll be a few hours before we can leave anyway.”

“Alright. The first people I want to talk to are Cynthia Ransom and the Senator.”

“Why them?” Billy asked. “I thought you were going to question Georgia and Victoria.”

“I will,” Lee said, “but there’s something I want to ask Cynthia first. She was up and about last night. She might have seen something important.”

“Okay,” Billy said. “I’m going to go make the call. Francine, hold the fort here.”

“Amanda?” Lee said. “Let’s go get dressed and get the book from my room. I think we might want it while talking to Cynthia.”

“Are you going to confront Cynthia about the ghost story?” Francine asked. “I’d love to see that.”

“Sorry, Francine,” Lee said. “You’ve got to manage things here.”

“Besides,” Amanda pointed out, “if it turns out that she’s the one who scared you our first night here, she might not want to talk in front of you.”

“Startled,” Francine said. “I was startled, not scared.”

“Right,” Lee said.

“Don’t worry,” Amanda said. “If she admits to that, I’ll be sure to tell her off for you.”

“Just tell me later, and I’ll do the telling off,” Francine said.

Getting dressed didn’t take long. Amanda skipped her shower and just put on the outfit she’d brought to Lee’s room. While she got dressed in the bathroom, Lee dressed in his room and got the book out of his desk. He hadn’t noticed the night before, possibly because his mind had really been on Amanda changing clothes behind his back, but some of the papers in the desk had been moved around. He frowned. Had Amanda done that? He didn’t think so. He’d hardly taken his eyes off of her when she’d been sitting there.

It was unsettling. He and Amanda had left the most sensitive information with the guards in the room with the security system controls, but he had kept the schedule of the security patrols in his desk. If someone had been looking through them earlier in the evening, that would explain how the mysterious attacker could keep one step ahead of the guards. Fortunately, whoever it was still didn’t know how the security system worked. But, that hadn’t stopped whoever it was from setting off one of the alarms.

The beep of the alarm clock startled Lee out of his thoughts. If he and Amanda had been allowed to sleep, they would have been waking up right now. Cursing under his breath, he turned off the alarm and went to meet Amanda.

None of the others had been allowed to return to their rooms to get dressed yet, so they spoke with Senator Kahler and Cynthia while they were still in their pajamas. When you’re in your pajamas and facing a man in a suit and a woman in a nice dress and heels, you’re at a distinct disadvantage. Cynthia adjusted the neck of her robe self-consciously. Senator Kahler sat up straight and looked Lee right in the eye, evidently hoping that the dignity of his posture would make up for the indignity of his dress.

Lee and Amanda agreed that Amanda should start the questioning, so Amanda handed the history book back to Cynthia, saying, “I wanted to be sure to return this. I really enjoyed reading it. Especially, the parts written on the dust jacket. And the notes in the chapter on the American Revolution. And that little sketch you did in the section on the Civil War. I think the ghost would be proud that her descendent was so creative.”

Cynthia almost went white as a ghost herself.

“What is she talking about?” Senator Kahler asked his fiance.

Amanda flipped to the section on the Civil War. One of the battle dates was circled, and in the margins, someone had written, “Josiah died tragically in this battle, and his dear wife Charlotte never recovered from her grief. Her spirit still wanders the grounds, waiting for her husband to come home.”

Underneath it, there was a little sketch of a woman in a dress like something from Gone With the Wind. It was hard to tell if she was supposed to be a ghost or not because it was just done with a black ball-point pen, but it wasn’t bad, considering how tiny it was.

“Oh,” Cynthia said meekly.

“Oh,” said Amanda.

“Cynthia?” the Senator asked.

“I was going to tell you last night,” Cynthia said, “before we got busy with other things . . .” She blushed.

“Tell me now,” the Senator said.

“I made up the ghost story. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have lied about it. Since the hotel wasn’t a success, and we’d decided to turn the house into a conference center instead, I’d hoped that it would be forgotten. I only invented it to drum up business for the hotel! So many old houses, at least the ones that get turned into successful hotels, have a colorful history associated with them. Someone famous lived there or slept there or something, or they’re near a place where something famous happened, but there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about our house. No famous battles took place nearby or anything! So, I made up the ghost story to give the place some romance.”

“But the real Charlotte was famous, wasn’t she?” Amanda asked. “Albert told us one evening that she wrote poetry. There are copies of her poems in all of our rooms.”

“She wasn’t that well-known. She only wrote one book of poems,” Cynthia said, “and they were all about flowers or birds. Who would come to a place just for bird poems?”

“Albert apparently,” Amanda said.

“But no one else,” Cynthia said sadly.

The Senator stared at her. “So that’s why you got so upset when people were talking about the ghost.”

Cynthia nodded. “I realized after I sent out the pamphlets with the story that it was stupid and that someday someone would realize the truth, but it was too late to take it back. I’m sorry, Ben.”

The Senator laughed. “Now, I understand! You poor thing, you could have told me earlier. All this time, I thought you were seriously afraid of ghosts and spirits. Mrs. King is right, it is pretty creative.”

“Albert told us that the real Charlotte died in the 1940s,” Amanda said.

“That’s right,” said Cynthia. “She was my great-grandmother. She died a couple of years before my parents were married. I don’t think my mother even met her. Her husband’s name was Joseph, like my father, but I changed it to Josiah because it had more of an old-fashioned sound to it.”

“I also noticed that you were originally going to set the story during the Revolutionary War but changed it to the Civil War.”

Cynthia gave them all an embarrassed smile. “While I was planning this, I read books about ghost stories in Virginia, especially ones associated with old houses, and most of them centered around the Civil War. The Civil War was more bloody and more recent than the Revolutionary War, and there is the tragic element of countrymen fighting countrymen. It just invites more ghost stories. It’s more what people would expect. I was trying to cater to my clientele.”

The Senator laughed harder and hugged Cynthia. “Oh, that’s incredible! You really should have written a book about this. The great tragic love of Charlotte Ransom!”

“I think I’ve had enough of tragedies for now. I’m thinking about happy endings.” Cynthia squeezed his hand.

“It could still make a great story,” the Senator said. “Especially if the heroine really is a spy. Your family does have a literary tradition.”

“I did have some other ideas for Charlotte’s story,” Cynthia admitted.

“I know,” Amanda said, tapping a page in the history book. “I like the part here where you-“

Lee cleared his throat.

“Right,” Amanda said.

“Making up fake ghost stories is one thing,” Lee said sternly, “but running around in the middle of the night pretending to be one and scaring people is something else.”

“What do you mean?” Cynthia asked.

“You were the one in Francine’s room the other night weren’t you?”

“No! Why would I try to scare one of my guests?”

“Your aunt says that she’s seen Charlotte’s ghost wandering the halls,” Lee reminded her. “That was before we even arrived. You’ve been playing ghost to keep up the legend that you made up, haven’t you?”

“Not on purpose,” Cynthia said awkwardly.

The Senator squeezed her shoulders and said, “Cynthia’s aunt and her mother are both very traditional when it comes to love and marriage. Cynthia and I . . . well, whenever I’m down here, the two of us have spent the night together. We just try to do it on the sly so her family won’t object. Her aunt has seen us sneaking around in the night. I realized that the other night when she mentioned seeing ghosts dancing. That was something Cynthia and I did late one night.”

Cynthia smiled at the memory.

“So how do you explain what happened to Francine?”

“I can’t!” Cynthia said. “Why would I want to scare people away after I worked so hard to get people to come here?”

Lee couldn’t think of a good response to that. Instead, he asked, “What about the old woman who gave Amanda the history book?”

“I don’t know anything about that, either. I thought we’d decided that it was just a dream. I certainly wouldn’t have given her the book or asked anyone else to do it for me. I was trying to keep people from finding out the truth behind the ghost, remember?”

Lee studied Cynthia’s face, and as far as he could tell, she wasn’t lying.

“Is there anything else you need to know, or can we go get dressed now?” the Senator asked.

“Just one more thing,” Lee said. “Last night, Cynthia, you walked from your room in the east wing of the house to your fiance’s room in the west wing. What time was that?”

“I’m not sure exactly. I think it was about twelve-thirty or a little after.”

That confirmed what the guards had said. That was also just after he and Amanda had found the prank in her room and decided that she should spend the night with him.

“Did you see anyone on your way?”

“A couple of the guards, but they didn’t stop me.”

“Anyone else?”

“Just Agent Worth.”

“Agent Worth?”

“He was kind of hovering around the stairway from the second floor to the third, dressed like he hadn’t been to bed yet. He took one look at me and went up to the third floor. I don’t know what he was doing, but I didn’t want to ask.”

“Thank you,” Lee said. “You can go upstairs to get dressed now, but guards will escort you. Nobody is allowed to go anywhere alone for now. Senator, you should begin packing your bags. We’re calling an end to the meeting here and taking everyone back to D.C.”

Cynthia looked devastated. “The conference center is a failure, then.”

Lee took pity on her. “Actually, I’d say that the conference is a failure, not the conference center. It’s not your fault that there’s a traitor and possibly a murderer among us. But, now that we know that, it would be safer to interrogate the suspects under higher security.”

“There are going to be difficulties with MI6 involved,” the Senator said. “I should contact the Intelligence Oversight Committee and the British Embassy.”

“Go ahead,” Lee said. “Mr. Melrose is already calling the Agency. I have to talk to some of the other guests before we leave.”

“Is it alright for us to make breakfast?” Cynthia asked. “Or will you be leaving before then?”

“No,” Lee said. “We won’t leave right away, and we’d all welcome something to eat.”

“I’ll talk to my aunt and Albert, then,” Cynthia said. “We’ll let you know when it’s ready.”

Amanda and Lee escorted the two of them back to the drawing room and assigned guards to accompany them and Cynthia’s family, one for each person.

As they sent them on their way, Lee whispered to Amanda, “I want to have a word with Worth alone. I think I know what he was doing last night, and I want to discuss it with him in private.”

“You don’t think he was the one who set off the alarm and attacked Romano, do you?” Amanda asked. “Romano thinks it was a woman, and it happened hours later.”

“No, I don’t think that was Worth.”

“Then, what-?”

“I’d rather not say yet,” Lee said. “I’d just like to talk to him myself.”

“Okay,” Amanda said. “Lee, do you mind if I go to my room and start packing?”

“Go ahead,” Lee said, “but come find me when you’re finished.”

“Alright. I’ll go get started.”

Francine was absent from the drawing room, but Billy was there, fully dressed, discussing the situation with the others, including Worth.

“I sent Francine upstairs to get dressed,” Billy said. “We should all begin packing soon.”

“I suppose that she’ll be happy to not have to sleep in her haunted room tonight,” Worth said, attempting a joke that no one found funny.

“When can the rest of us get dressed and begin packing?” Gordon asked.

“Have you finished talking to Cynthia Ransom?” Billy asked Lee.

“Yes, but she wasn’t able to tell us much that was helpful.” Lee wanted to wait until he could speak to Billy privately to tell him the real story behind the ghost.

“Is there anyone else you’d like to talk to before they go upstairs to get dressed and start packing?”

“They can all go upstairs, under guard,” Lee said. “I’ll accompany Agent Worth myself. There are a couple of things I need to do on the third floor.”

Worth gave Lee a calculating look. “I didn’t want to say anything before, but have you considered the possibility that Romano faked the attack on himself?”

“What makes you say that?” Lee asked.

Worth said, “I didn’t see anyone run away from his room.”

“They could have done that before you left your room,” Baudin pointed out. “You said that you were asleep when you heard him scream, and it took you a moment to get out of bed.”

“Well, there is something else,” Worth said, “but you’d have to ask Georgia about it.”

“Ask me what?” Georgia said, hearing her name and coming over.

“I didn’t want to ask before,” Worth said, “but Romano told me that he was with you the night before the mission. Was he?”

Baudin looked surprised. “You’ve been seeing each other?”

“Yes,” Georgia said. She hugged herself tightly, bracing herself for the lecture she knew was coming.

“I don’t need to tell you that romances between personnel in the same department are unprofessional,” Baudin said. “I can’t say that I blame you for your feelings, but before an important mission-”

“That was why I wanted to see him that night,” Georgia said. “I knew the mission was dangerous, and I wanted to spend some time with him . . . . just in case.”

“But did you really spend time with him, or did he just tell you to say that because he was really somewhere else?” Worth challenged her. “Maybe giving information to the enemy?”

“No! He was with me. If you don’t believe me, ask him where he got that medal that he’s wearing around his neck. I gave it to him that night.”

“You gave him the medallion?” Lee asked.

“To help keep him safe,” Georgia said. “St. Michael the Archangel is a protector. He leads the forces of heaven against the forces of evil. I just wanted him to protect my Michael.”

“You’re Catholic,” Billy commented.

“Actually, no,” Georgia said, “but I know that Michael is and so was his partner. I thought they might both appreciate it. Chris is the one who gave me the idea.”

“Chris wasn’t Catholic,” Gordon said, his eyes narrowed.

“But, he had a medal, too,” Georgia said. “I saw it one day and asked him what it was. It was a St. Christopher medal.”

“He got that awhile ago,” Worth said. “He said that he got it because of all the traveling he did. He had kind of a narrow escape in a traffic accident and thought he could use some extra protection. St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers.”

“That’s what he told me, too,” Georgia said. “So I decided to get a protective medal for Michael, too.”

“So you really were with Michael the night before the mission?” Baudin asked.

“Yes. In my hotel room.”

“And he talked to you about the details of the mission?”

“I knew most of them already, but we did discuss it a little more.”

“You and I will have to discuss this more later, with Michael. A romantic liaison is a mild breach of professional ethics, but discussing a mission and its details outside of a secure location is more serious,” Baudin said.

“That could be the source of the leak,” Gordon suggested.

“I don’t think so,” Billy said. “At least, not if you’re talking about someone placing a bug in Georgia’s room. The smugglers would have to have known about her connection to Agent Romano much earlier than that to have arranged to bug her room, and if they already knew that Romano was a plant, they probably wouldn’t have needed to place a bug at all. I doubt what Romano and Georgia said to each other that night would have made a difference.”

Baudin said to Georgia, “You may go and pack your bags now. We’ll talk later.”

Lee turned to Worth and said, “Shall we go?”

Their walk upstairs was silent, but when they reached his room, Worth said, “You think that I said all of that about Romano and Georgia to shift blame off of myself, don’t you?”

“No,” Lee said. “I think you’re guilty of something, but not of being the leak.”

“What is it you think I’m guilty of?” Worth asked.

“You’re a cad.”

“I’m what?” Worth laughed.

“You’re a playboy type, but you decided to hedge your bets last night, didn’t you? Not very subtle, making that reference to Francine’s haunted room back there. But, I started suspecting you when you tried to pump Francine for information about other strange things happening last night.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’ve been flirting with Francine ever since we got here. I can’t blame you there. You’ve got pretty good taste. But, she hasn’t been returning your affections, has she? She’s been pretty wrapped up with doing her job here, and when she hasn’t been doing that, she’s been thinking about the ghost story and trying to figure out who scared her our first night here. You’ve been trying hard to get her attention, but other than a friendly chat at meals, she hasn’t spared a lot of attention for you.”

“What are you getting at?”

“You took part in the fortune telling to get Francine’s attention, and then you decided to play on Francine’s superstitious side to get her to come to your room last night. Amanda told me that you made a point of inviting Francine to come to you if she needed anything, and then you set up her room to spook her, writing threatening messages on her mirror with her lipstick. It was stupid, but men have done stupider things to get attention from women. Except that you did something especially stupid.”

Worth just looked at Lee warily, not saying anything.

“You got the wrong room,” Lee said.

Worth controlled his facial features, but Lee was watching for the telltale widening of the eyes and was rewarded with this brief flicker of surprise.

“You got Amanda’s room by mistake.” Lee lowered his voice to a growl.

A flicker of worry came into Worth’s eyes now. It was bad enough, playing a trick on the wrong woman, but now he was facing that woman’s irate male partner.

“If someone did something to Amanda’s room, what makes you think it was me?” Worth asked.

“You were seen, waiting and watching the room,” Lee said. “You got impatient, didn’t you? You knew that Francine had gone to her room, but then nothing happened. You wanted to make sure that she came running to you, so you decided to wait conveniently close to her room. But, she didn’t do anything, and you had to leave because Cynthia happened to pass by and see you.”

Worth didn’t try to deny it any more. “I thought Francine said she was in the room at the end of the second floor hall, the Rose Room?”

“She was in the room next to the Rose Room, not quite the end of the hall,” Lee clarified.

“I almost picked that room,” Worth said ruefully. “Those little signs on the doors are hard to read at night.”

Lee was stern. “You owe both Amanda and Francine an apology.”

“Does Francine know about this?” Worth asked.

“Not yet, but she will,” Lee said. “Francine’s a good woman and a good agent, and she deserves a lot better than to be manipulated with juvenile tricks.”

To his credit, Worth did look ashamed of himself.

“It was a stupid thing to do,” he admitted. “As you said, all I really wanted was to get her attention. I knew that we wouldn’t be staying here long, so I tried to speed things up. The only thing she seemed interested in besides work was the supernatural, so I tried to play to that.”

“But you knew that she was upset about someone coming into her room before. So you thought scaring her more would give you the chance to play the hero?”

“Something like that,” Worth said glumly. “On Halloween night, it seemed kind of romantic. In the cold light of morning, it just seems pathetic.”

“You’re right, it is,” Lee said. “A real hero looks after women. He wouldn’t set up a situation to frighten a woman just so he could take advantage of her. What were you going to do to Francine if you’d gotten her to come to your room last night?”

Worth straightened up. “I wasn’t going to force myself on her, if that’s what you’re suggesting.”

“Just place more pressure on her to do what you wanted?” Lee countered.

Worth’s face colored, but there wasn’t much he could say to that. He probably hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but that’s what it amounted to, and both he and Lee knew it.

“You should be grateful that it didn’t come to that. Francine is good at hand-to-hand combat, and she gets nasty when she’s offended. If she’d realized what you were trying to do, it wouldn’t have been romantic.”

Worth said, “I’ll apologize to them both later.”

“You’d better,” Lee said.

“I promise, nothing like this will happen again.”

“It better not.”

There wasn’t anything else left to say, so Lee left Worth to his guilt and his packing and stationed a guard outside his door to watch him. He had other things to take care of.

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